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Beginning the epic but immensely rewarding task of researching your lineage and compiling your family tree can be rather daunting. But fear not! These 5 tips for success will get you started, or help you along the way if you have already begun.
- Talk to your family. The first thing you should do when starting your journey into understanding your heritage is to talk to your family. All of them. You might think, for example, that your brother, sister, or cousin knows the same family facts, stories, and even legends that you do. However, this may not be the case. They might have heard or remembered very different things to you which might be just the clues you need to give you a basis to start your research. If you are lucky enough to still have them around, ask your parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. Before you talk to anyone have relevant questions ready. Examples of these questions that will both help to elicit the sort of responses you are looking for i.e. those that contain pertinent information that can help you with your research are usually open questions i.e. those that require more than a yes or no answer could be ‘what family names do you remember?’ or ‘where did the family live before they moved to…’. When talking to your family remember to take notes or, even better, record the conversations so that you can refer back to them.
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- Bring history to life. This will make your research more fun as you will begin to be able to put yourself in your ancestor’s shoes. Ways to help you do this include checking newspaper archives, as D. Biersdorfer writing in the New York Times suggests. In the past newspapers, especially local ones, often contained a more intimate picture of life than present-day newspapers do. You could also visit places, whether that is houses, towns, counties or countries, where your ancestors lived and explore the history of the place or simply enjoying seeing the landscapes your ancestors would have looked upon and walk where they trod.
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- Be organized and focused, take notes, cross-reference, and make lists not only of what you have found out but what you want to find out to help you to narrow your focus and stay on track. Some sites such as Genealogical Studies.com have ready-made lists that you can print off for free or just use for inspiration to make your own lists and databases.
- Take a DNA test. Whether you decide to take an ancestral DNA test at the very beginning of your research into your family heritage or whether you start doing your research first and then use a DNA test to help you to further your journey is up to you. But, considering that these tests are now so affordable and can provide you with so much information either to start you off or to help you out when you feel you have reached a dead end. Various companies offer DNA testing, a little research will help you find the right test for you at the right price.
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- Make the most of the Internet. The worldwide web has innumerable resources and ways to help you trace your family. Don’t underestimate the power of search engines and don’t stick to just one. Check out online research guides such as familysearch .org/wiki for step by step advice. Be sure to look at websites such as Family Tree for guides, resources, tips, and even daily inspiration to help you on your journey.
Best of luck!